Names for Money

avocet avocet at DBN.LIA.NET
Thu Feb 18 11:32:55 CST 1999

Dr Neil Snow wrote:

> Taxonomy is still awash with amateurs. By amateurs I mean those who have
> great enthusiasm for the subject, but who haven't spent years in the
> library pouring over the past masters and learning the different schools
> of thought and the theory behind them.  Ask an amateur or hobbyist what
> his or her species concept is, when it was first articulated and by
> whom, and how it differs from several other species concepts. You will
> likely get a blank stare or some vacuous comment that species concepts
> are irrelevant. Yet that same amateur might tomorrow go out publish a
> new species in some poorly reviewed journal of low scientific standards.

In my opinion Dr Snow's attack on amateur taxonomists is
appalling. His comments are arrogant and unjustified generalisms
which could probably be equally well applied to some, so called,
"professional" taxonomists.

In passing, how many of the "past masters" cited above were amateurs

I would like to know whether Dr Snow can provide a single species
definition which will find universal approval and acceptance by all
taxonomists? If he thinks he can, I would suggest that he himself
needs to go back to the libaries and spend a few more years of
research on that subject alone, not only research but also some deep
reflection will be needed without doubt.

> My experience suggests that most amateurs have little or no concept of
> widespread infraspecific variation, or that such variation is an
> expected consequence of evolutionary processes acting on local
> populations. (Most have no understanding of evolution, either.)
> Consequently, amateurs often describe local variants as new species,
> which, if analysed globally, would be seen as regional variants unworthy
> of taxnomic rank.

Why unworthy of taxonomic rank? Taxonomy is an information retrieval
system which needs to record as much information as possible.
Information about biodiversity (a primary concern to us all) can only
be extracted once it has been properly labelled (named) and
described. I suspect that many amateur taxonomists may have a better
insight into the variation of their chosen fields of study than many
museum or herbarium taxonomists who often only see a small sample of
local populations where the view of  this variation may be lost in
the  overall variation of all the material examined. A case of not
being able to see the trees for the woods. I have certainly found
concrete evidence of this in my own field of research.

> It may be unpopular to say so, but I believe the majority of amateurs
> publishing new "species" are grossly incompetent as scientists.

These are strong words! In view of the peer review system applied by
most journals, surely these comments must reflect most sadly on the
reviewers as well?

> I  routinely scan dozens of systematics journals and am frequently appalled
> to see new "species" described in the absence of any scientific or
> scholarly context.  Whether this is only by amateurs or more highly
> trained specialists is hard to know.


>From what I have read in recent posts, the "sale" of the right
to name new species seems to originate from within the ranks of
professionals, not the amateurs. If it was up to the amateurs, who by
definition are unpaid, I am sure that this practice would not be
tolerated. If there is to be any prostitution of taxonomy then those
whose livelyhood depends on it are far more likely to succumb to this
temptation than those whose study is undertaken out of the purer
motives of interest and curiosity.

Do not forget that the major museums of today were founded on the
work and collections of the amateurs of the past. Maybe it is time
for these museums to repay their debt by offering their facilities
more widely to the present day amateurs. Isn't it better to have
collaboration than antagonism?

The unimportant views of an  amateur taxonomist
(Who has spent a lifetime doing all the things we are not believed
to do, i.e., reading the literature, learning new techniques and
going out into the field to study the organisms of interest, both in
life as well as collecting preserved material - for the most part
without the finances of an  organisation to support my efforts.)

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